Here’s Why California is Losing Population for the First Time

California is suffering a major demographic reversal, one that threatens both the state’s economic future and the durability of its progressive model.

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The Left Doesn’t Own Minority Voters

Demographic transitions present political opportunities, but do not protect politicians from their own folly. The shift in most Western countries to a more racially and ethnically diverse demographic has been widely seen by left-wingers as an opportunity to cement their ascendancy.

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The New Dark Ages

If ignorance is bliss, the Western world should be ecstatic. Even as colleges churn out degrees and collect fees, and technology makes information instantly accessible, the basic level of literacy, as measured by such things as reading books and acquainting oneself with the past, is in a precipitous decline. Rather than building a vital world with our technological culture, we are repeating the memes of feudal times, driven by illiteracy, bias and a rejection of the West’s past.

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Work or Welfare?

Throughout history, work has been the common lot of humanity—at least, outside of the idle rich and those who could not find any. It was celebrated by the Calvinist capitalists described in Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism as a means for people to achieve their “own salvation.” Labor for its own sake was embraced by the Marxist canon as well—work, wrote Friedrich Engels, “is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labor created man himself.”

If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.
~Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968)

Yet today’s baffling shortage of workers in high-income countries may presage something different: a post-work society, in which only a select few labor. For most, economic maintenance would come from some form of universal basic income (UBI). This notion has been tried as part of the COVID-19 relief program and in President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better initiative, which allows benefits for those who could join the workforce but don’t care to.

This idea is arising at a propitious time. A strong majority of people in 28 countries around the world, according to a recent Edelman survey, believe that capitalism does more harm than good. More than four-in-five worry about job loss, particularly from automation. Rising inequality and general fear of downward mobility have boosted support for expanded government and greater re-distribution of wealth.

Surplus classes

As early as 1995, author Jeremy Rifkin suggested that automation would eliminate work for most and create the basis for a society where “large numbers of people could be liberated from long hours in the formal marketplace.” This would allow them to focus on “leisure activities,” a kind of technological utopia for the masses.

It’s a compelling vision in some ways, but right now it looks dystopic. The ranks of what Marx called the “reserve army of the unemployed” are simply disengaging. A decade ago, Gallup’s Jim Clifton wrote about The Coming Jobs War, in which he predicted a global struggle for diminishing employment. Now there is plenty of work but people are not interested. In the US, labor participation rates have fallen from 80 percent in 1950 to 61 percent now, down from 64.4 percent in 2010. Nearly one-third of American working-age males are not in the labor force, suffering high rates of incarceration, or drug, alcohol, and other health issues.

And, to be sure, opportunities may be further reduced by technology, which could accelerate the loss of many kinds of jobs that once provided a means of upward mobility: postal workers, switchboard operators, machinists, computer operators, bank tellers, travel agents. For the 90 million Americans who work in such jobs—and their counterparts elsewhere—the future could be bleak. By 2030, Oxford Economics predicts that 20 million factory jobs worldwide will fall to automation—1.5 million in the US, 2.5 million in the EU, and 12.5 million in China.

The pandemic clearly accelerated this process, notably in the service sector. With the shift to online and takeout food, chains like McDonald’s are perfecting electronic delivery systems that reduce the need for human labor. Large capital investments are necessary for such adaptations, which—as France’s Thomas Piketty has noted—favors larger corporations as opposed to smaller family businesses.

Globalism, automation, and its effects

A plausible future scenario is a society in which a small, hyper-productive technical and managerial elite delivers food, housing, and pleasure to the plebes, like those in the later centuries of the Roman Empire. Their only role in society would be to take and not threaten the imperial state—a system that only worked due to the presence of slaves and huge territories to pillage.

Read the rest of this piece at Quillete.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo: Henry & Co. via Unsplash.

The Great Nudge

When we think of oppressive regimes, we immediately think of the Stalinist model portrayed in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the heavy-handed thought control associated with Hitler’s Reich or Mao’s China. But where the old propaganda was loud, crude and often lethal, the contemporary style of thought control takes the form of a gentle nudging towards orthodoxy – a gentle push that gradually closes off one’s critical faculties and leads one to comply with gently given directives. Governments around the world, including in the UK, notes the Guardian, have been embracing this approach with growing enthusiasm.

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Own Nothing and Love It

From the ancient world to modern times, the class of small property owners have constituted the sine qua non of democratic self-government. But today this class is under attack by what Aristotle described as an oligarchia, an unelected power elite that controls the political economy for its own purposes. In contrast, the rise of small holders were critical to the re-emergence and growth of democracy first in the Netherlands, followed by North America, Australia, and much of Europe.

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We Need More Families

Families, and the lack of them, are emerging as one of the great political dividing lines in America, and much of the high-income world. The familial ideal was once embraced by all political factions, except on the extremes, but that is no longer the case.

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America is Built on a Great Culture. Progressives Want to Abandon It

Here’s a dirty secret: Great nations rest on a great common culture. I say it’s a secret because it’s become almost taboo to discuss this historic fact; progressives across the globe have turned decisively against national legacies, and it’s progressives who by and large dictate mainstream culture. But if the Democratic Party wants to avoid further electoral disasters like those in Virginia, Long Island and elsewhere, it would do well to relearn the obvious truth that a common culture that binds us is not only good and necessary, but popular.

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Serfing the Planet

Like its global predecessors, the COP26 Glasgow conference will usher in a new wave of apocalyptic warnings about climate change. It will also likely prove no more successful, in terms of actually addressing the issue, than its predecessors, particularly as China, India and other developing countries ramp up their emissions.

Nevertheless, none of this will force the climate activists to reconsider how the current strategies against global warming could break the backs of the already beleaguered working and middle class. (For British readers, I use the phrase ‘middle class’ here in the American – less bourgeois – sense.) The climate chorus of celebrities, oligarchs and royals may feel virtuous, but for most people the future could prove to be propertyless proletarianisation. Many of those in Glasgow at the moment pray at the altar of ‘de-growth’. They want to limit the consumption of the working and middle classes, undermine their jobs, raise their energy bills, and inhibit their ability to buy property or travel.

These policies are fine with ‘woke’ corporatists like BlackRock, who see enormous profits in the regulated shift in energy, even as they seek to expand their business with the world’s dominant polluter, China. What’s missing is any focus on how to cut emissions without causing high inflation, raising energy prices and destroying the middle class. So far, more palatable options, like increasing remote work, geothermal energy, natural gas, nuclear power and varied new technologies, have not managed to get on to the agenda.

With climate, as with many other issues, the upper classes are inflicting their own preferences on working- and middle-class people. As nonprofits, oligarchs and bureaucrats plot out the future, small business owners and the middle class, as one entrepreneur put it, are ‘not at the table – or even in the room’. This is the very class – what I refer to as the yeomanry – that has driven much of the West’s economic progress and nurtured self-government. Democracy was born when both Athens and later Rome included small property owners in governance. Democracy died when these small owners lost power to what Aristotle labelled the ‘oligarchia’.

After the autocratic Middle Ages, both human progress and self-rule came back as the middle classes began to rise – first in Italy but then more profoundly, and more pervasively, in the Netherlands and the British Isles, before spreading to North America and Oceania, where there was no true hereditary aristocracy. Students of classical experience, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams, all considered the over-concentration of property in a few hands as a basic threat to republican institutions, an insight shared by such intellects as Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Adam Smith.

After the brutalities of the early Industrial Revolution, and two world wars, the middle class thrived not just in America, but also in Britain, Australia, Canada and increasingly in East Asia. But by the 1970s we began what has become an inexorable march towards an ever more feudalistic structure. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has noted that, across the 36 wealthier countries, the uber-wealthy have taken an ever greater share of national GDP in recent decades, while the middle class ‘looks increasingly like a boat in rocky waters’.

These patterns are clearly evident in the United States, where wealth gains have been especially concentrated among the top 0.1 per cent. The share of national wealth held by those below the top 10 per cent has fallen since the 1980s by 12 percentage points, the same proportion that the top 0.1 per cent have gained. Today, roughly half of all Americans earn less than $35,000 annually, living essentially pay cheque to pay cheque.

Even with their robust social-welfare provisions, over two thirds of European Union countries, including Sweden, have experienced declining social mobility. Germany is significantly less equal than its EU peers, with richer households controlling a bigger share of assets than in most other Western European states. The bottom 40 per cent of German adults hold almost no assets at all; barely 45 per cent of Germans own homes. Even in theoretically socialist China the top one per cent of the population hold about one third of the country’s wealth. Meanwhile, the prospects for the Chinese middle class are fading, particularly in light of the recent debt and housing crisis.

Read the rest of this piece at Spiked.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: Paul Farmer, via Geograph.org.uk, CC 2.0 License.

The Great Office Refusal

The pandemic has cut a swath through our sense of normalcy, but as has been the case throughout history, a disastrous plague also brings opportunities to reshape and even improve society. COVID-19 provides the threat of greater economic concentration, but also a unique chance to recast our geography, expand the realm of the middle class, boost social equity, and develop better ways to create sustainable communities.

Driven partly by fear of infection, and by the liberating rise of remote work, Americans have been increasingly freed from locational constraints. Work continues apace in suburbs and particularly in sprawling exurbs that surround core cities, while the largest downtowns (central business districts, or CBDs) increasingly resemble ghost towns.

This shift has made it more practical for individuals and particularly families to migrate to locations where they can find more affordable rents, and perhaps even buy a house. But such a pattern may be countered by investors on Wall Street, who seem determined to turn the disruption to their own advantage by gearing up efforts to buy out increasingly expensive single-family homes, transforming potential homeowners into permanent rental serfs and much of the country into a latifundium dominated by large landlords.

We are in the midst of what the CEO of Zillow has called “the great reshuffling,” essentially an acceleration of an already entrenched trend of internal American migration toward suburbs, the sunbelt, and smaller cities. Between 2019 and 2021 alone, a preference for larger homes in less dense areas grew from 53% to 60%, according to Pew. As many as 14 million to 23 million workers may relocate as a consequence of the pandemic, according to a recent Upwork survey, half of whom say they are seeking more affordable places to live.

This suggests that the downtown cores of U.S. cities will continue to struggle. Since the pandemic began, tenants have given back around 200 million square feet of commercial real estate, according to Marcus & Millichap data, and the current office vacancy rate stands at 16.2%, matching the peak of the 2008 financial crisis. Between September 2019 and September 2020, the biggest job losses, according to the firm American Communities and based on federal data, have been in big cities (nearly a 10% drop in employment), followed by their close-in suburbs, while rural areas suffered only a 6% drop, and exurbs less than 5%. Today our biggest cities—Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago—account for three of the five highest unemployment rates among the 51 largest metropolitan areas.

The rise of remote work drives these trends. Today, perhaps 42% of the 165 million-strong U.S. labor force is working from home full time, up from 5.7% in 2019. When the pandemic ends, that number will probably drop, but one study, based on surveys of more than 30,000 employees, projects that 20% of the U.S. workforce will still work from home post-COVID. 

Others predict a still more durable shift: A University of Chicago study suggests that a full one-third of the workforce could remain remote, and in Silicon Valley, the number could stabilize near 50%. Both executives and employees have been impressed by the surprising gains of remote work, and now many companies, banks, and leading tech firms—including Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter—expect a large proportion of their workforces to continue to work remotely. Nine out of 10 organizations, according to a new McKinsey survey of 100 executives across industries and geographies, plan to keep at least a hybrid of remote and on-site work indefinitely.

The shift of work from the office to the home, or at least to less congested spaces, threatens the strict geographic hierarchy of many elite corporations. Some corporate executives, like Morgan Stanley’s Jamie Dimon, are determined to force employees back into Manhattan offices, like it or not. It’s now a common mantra among like-minded executives, especially those connected to downtown office development, that workers are “pining” to return to the office. Some have even threatened employees who do not come back in person with lower wages and decreased opportunities for promotion, while offering to reward those willing to take the personal hit of coming back on-site every day.

Read the rest of this piece at Tablet.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo credit: Steven Zwerink via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.